WWII veteran celebrates 98th birthday with help from VA Clinic

A WWII Navy veteran celebrated his 98th trip around the sun with a little help from the La Salle VA Clinic.

Ervin Safranek, of Paw Paw, Illinois, went in for a regular physical on July 21. Afterwards, he found a surprise birthday party hosted by an enthusiastic La Salle VA staff.

“How does it feel to be 98? asked Sally Washkowiak, La Salle’s nurse manager.

“You know, honestly, I don’t think I’m 98,” Safranek joked to the group of VA supporters.

Eighty years ago, an 18-year-old Safranek was drafted to fight in World War II. According to Safanek, the editorial board gave him the choice of joining the army or the navy. He chose the navy for a reason – Safanek hated the army uniform.

“I didn’t want to wear a tie, and at that time the army always wore ties,” he joked.

Safranek’s strong dislike of decorative ties led him to sail, tieless, through the Atlantic and Pacific theaters during the war, including combat missions in Naples, Italy, and Okinawa, in Japan.

After the war, Safranek returned to Paw Paw, eventually opening a grocery store for his community. Now retired, Safranek has bragged that he can still drive the 30 minutes from his home to his medical appointments at La Salle VA Clinic.


“The day he came to make an appointment, the clerk noticed it was his birthday, so that made me think about having a little party,” said Laura McNally, social worker at La Salle and organizer of holidays. “We don’t have many World War II veterans anymore. Anything we can do to make our veterans feel extra special is our goal.”

Although Safranek is happy to have taken another step, he insisted it was no big deal. The veteran is aiming to reach his 100th celebration.

“I have to wait a few years before the big one,” he says, smiling.

“We’ll be there,” exclaimed Washkowiak.

The Salle VA Clinic is one of six outpatient clinics at Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital.

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